Here at Machines4u, we’re always interested in new and increasingly futuristic manufacturing techniques. Discussions around the water cooler about the takeover by our looming robotic overlords are not uncommon. However, occasionally we like to get back to basics and check out some real masters of craft and inspect some traditional or ‘dying’ arts. It seems, despite the rise of the machines, there is still a demand for hand-made products both in Australia and abroad. So, what is it about hand-made that keeps us wanting more?
There’s nothing like hand-crafted for perfection
Sure, robots can turn out 400 Thomas the Tank Engines per minute, (is Thomas a thing anymore? Has he been replaced by those talking potatoes or Dora?) but are our kids likely to remember every plastic toy or dime-a-dozen action figure they had as a kid? Doubtful. But do you recall, with misty-eyed fondness, the wooden train set your grandpa carved for you with his bare hands when you were but a wee six years old? We’d be willing to bet on it.
While automated machines can churn out enough snap-back caps and synthetic knitted jumpers to keep the masses clothed; enough standard-issue, 12-piece crockery sets to furnish the dining tables of every small town in the world; more than enough ‘some assembly required’ television units to keep us glued to the idiot box for the next century; there is nothing like hand-crafted for quality, and a sense of pride about owning a piece of finely-hewn furniture.
Hand-made is collectible and unique
Websites like Etsy exist purely because there is an appetite for hand-made goods. They represent something unique, something collectible and often, something bespoke. The biggest sellers on Etsy? Hand-made jewellery and furniture makers, according to Robert Grajewski this article for Forbes. With over 30 million members from 200 countries, there is clearly no lack of desire for these kinds of goods. For special occasions, for gifts and for heirloom pieces, people are still looking for something which has been created just for their purpose. Something which has been finely crafted by a master tradesman (or woman) tells a story, like no mass-manufactured piece can do.
George Smithwick, a 6th generation cooper (or barrel maker) believes that lost trades will make a comeback, as people are increasingly cautious of where their money goes.
“Money is so hard to come by, that people won’t be throwing things away like they do today. They won’t go to Bunnings and buy a 2-bob plastic bucket, and throw it out in 3 months. [If] I make a wooden bucket, you’re gonna have it in 30 years’ time. You look after it, you keep water in it, that’s it, you’ve got a bucket.”
The rise of YouTube, and boredom
Cat videos, make-up tutorials and dashcam footage of high speed Russian car-versus-machine gun accidents—we have YouTube to thank for so many things. Ironically, as we spend more and more time engrossed in our electronic devices, many people are teaching themselves new skills and learning to do something which they’d never have had the opportunity to do before. Need to replace the turbo in your fully sick Nissan Silvia? There’s a video for that. Want to learn to create a moulded picture frame for your Great Aunt Marge on her 100th birthday? Well lucky you, there’s a video for that too!
Nowadays, you can learn to do just about anything on YouTube, and tutorials are one of the most popular formats for this video-sharing platform. Furthermore, DIY Instagrammers and Facebook groups are becoming incredibly popular, as an international community of would-be weekend warriors come together to share tips, and learn from each other. If the technological age has many things to answer for, it is equally true that modern connectivity fosters an environment of knowledge sharing and collaboration which is previously unheard of. Open-source programs like WikiHow, home to over 200,000 how-to articles, are powerhouses of the worldwide web and show no signs of slowing down.
Not only can making (or doing) something yourself save you a stack of cash, it also has the potential to give you the kind of self-satisfaction normally reserved for successfully avoiding the dishes or topping the footy tipping charts at work. There are few feelings like that of creating a beautiful (albeit slightly misshapen) salad bowl from nothing more than a damp hump of clay. Not to mention, you can reenact your all-time favourite movie scene. (We won’t tell anyone if you don’t.)
The lost arts return
For those interested in a more personal look at the craftsmanship of old, the Lost Trades Fair held in Toowoomba each year is a great place to learn from the masters of many disappearing arts. Hosted by the Cob & Co Museum, the event takes place on October 7th and 8th, and features workshops and displays on cooperage, leather plaiting, wooden chair making and more.
Glen Rundell, founder of the Lost Trades Fair says, when asked what his hopes for the fair are for the future:
“Hopefully it won’t exist, that these tradespeople have ceased to be ‘lost’ trades fair-people and that their trades have started to pick up again, and start to be practiced more often.”
“There is a chance that we won’t fade into obscurity. And that’s good for everybody, not just the demonstrators themselves.”